Saint Thomas Aquinas

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Indulgences and the Crusades-Romanus Cessario, OP


If you really want to be able to understand and defend the Catholic faith then you need to read orthodox scholars who actually devote their lives to studying the Catholic faith. One such scholar is Romanus Cessario, OP. As the old saying goes, the more I learn, the more I learn how much I don't know. So this blog will be taking a yet further shift in directing you to good Catholic sources rather than to my own material. If you want to understand indulgences, and get a bit of apologetic material to go along with it, then you will certainly enjoy this article. The article deals with how the indulgence of a Crusader applies to one who dies on the way to the crusade. Take the time to read the 20 or so pages here so you can really come to a firm grasp how indulgences are to be understood in Catholic theology. There are a couple of observations to be made from this article if you are interested in apologetics.

The first is the obvious fact that the authority of the Church played a huge role in the way St. Thomas worked through this theological disputation. Fr. Cessario's quote from Aquinas is clear enough. "Therefore, dispensation of this treasure belongs to the one who is in charge of the whole Church; hence the Lord gave to Peter the keys of the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 16, [19]). Accordingly, when either the well-being or absolute necessity of the Church requires it, the one who is in charge of the Church can distribute from this unlimited treasure to anyone who through charity belongs to the Church as much of the said treasure as shall seem to him opportune, either up to a total remission of punishment or to some certain amount." This article should put to rest any ideas that Aquinas believed in any form of Sola Scriptura, a faulty proposition often put forth by Protestants such as William Webster.

Secondly we can see that St. Thomas was very familiar with the mind and works of the Church Fathers like Saint Augustine, who is quoted in this article as giving a solid foundation to the theology of indulgences. Another ploy used by Protestants is to quote the Church Fathers out of context. If I learned anything from the conference I attended this past week, it is a fact that most "apologists" out there, both Catholic and Protestant, are not well versed in any of the Church Father's writings. Although I do not consider myself to be an "apologist", I also fail in this department. What I mean by this is that it takes more than reading some quotes from a book on the Church Fathers, cutting and pasting some quotes from Catholic Answers, or even reading through a few works in English yourself from any of the Fathers. Sure this is good to do, but it truly takes a competent person who has thoroughly read the Fathers with the philosophical/theological mindset that is unique to each Father and their writings. Translations and the meaning of particular words are very important in how we read and understand the Fathers. We must also remember, context, context! I always return to an old quote by Adrian Fortescue. “We must not forget that the early Fathers did not write their letters or preach their sermons with a view to supplying evidences of the faith of their time for future controversialists.” This quote is one that many should have pasted to their foreheads. This is another reason why God gave us His Church. Here in this article Fr. Cessario notes that St. Augustine is referenced by Aquinas in the proper context when he cites St. Augustine with the following quote, which certainly broods with the Catholic understanding of sin and indulgences. "Augustine says in Book XV of the De Trinitate that to take out the arrow is not the same as to heal the wound: the arrow of sin is removed by the remission of sin; the wound, however, is cured by the restoration of the image [of God], which satisfactory works alone accomplish." Leaving you with these two thoughts, I now point you in the direction of Fr. Romanus Cesarrio's article, 'St. Thomas Aquinas on Satisfaction, Indulgences, and Crusades.'

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